The Garden Patch: Gardening at the kitchen table – planning for next year’s harvest

101414-garden-patch-toolsI’ve decided to write about something I do every year, and I thought it might be helpful for some of you: advanced garden planning. So here goes …

We’re going to assume that you know where on your property your garden will be located, how much space you have and pretty much what you plan to plant and grow in the upcoming season. With that in mind, let’s talk about advanced garden planning.

First: Make a sketch

This doesn’t have to be a professional artist’s rendering or an engineer’s work, you just need to draw a scale model of your garden space. Allow everyone involved (family) to participate by suggesting their favorite vegetables. Make notes on the plan and save it as a reference for your next garden. You can (and should) also use this plan when ordering and/or purchasing seeds and plants.

Obtaining seeds and plants

Planning includes choosing varieties for your home garden: Consider several factors such as disease resistance, yield, maturity date, size, shape, color and flavor. Seed companies and state agricultural research stations are constantly developing and testing improved vegetable varieties and procedures. Here are some sources of information:

  • Ask your local Extension agent or K-State Research and Extension for the publication Recommended Varieties for Kansas.
  • Use varieties that have performed well in past years for you or for other gardeners you know.
  • If you plan a special use for a particular vegetable, such as freezing, exhibiting or canning, check with your local Extension agent or study your seed catalog for recommendations.
  • Check with your local seed store or garden center for advice on what to plant.

If you do not have a hotbed or cold frame, you may want to buy vegetable transplants for crops that require transplanting into the garden. These can be obtained from local greenhouses or seed and garden centers. Again, make sure the varieties are what you want to produce.

Tools and supplies

While several items are essential to raise a garden, it is not necessary to have a lot of equipment. Plan ahead by knowing which tools you need to reduce the gardening workload. Perhaps, if you have a gardening neighbor, you can share some tools – but this is what is recommended for a family garden between 100 and 1,000 square feet in size:

  • Garden tiller
  • Hoe and trowel
  • Small sprayer
  • Pointed stakes and labels
  • String and yardstick (or tape measure)
  • Fertilizer
  • Fungicides and insecticides as desired
  • Hose
  • Compost, manure, peat moss, sawdust or vermiculite

Get your soil tested

Knowing what’s in your soil will help you plan early for soil improvement. Test your soil to know its composition. The Extension office in Lyndon can handle this for you! Most eastern Kansas soils are very acid and your Extension agent can tell you how to correct it!

Soil improvement

ALL garden plants depend on the soil for nutrition. Soil condition and fertility are PRIMARY considerations in planning a successful home garden.

Add organic matter

Organic matter is an effective way of improving all kinds of soil. Here’s why:

  • It loosens tight clay soils (Are you kidding? In eastern Kansas?).
  • It increases water holding capacity of sandy soils.
  • It makes soil easier to till.
  • It provides nutrients.

Types of fertilizer

You can add organic matter to your garden by using a fall cover crop such as ryegrass. However, most home gardeners prefer to add organic matter by using one of the following materials:

  • Stable manure.
  • Poultry and sheep manure (watch these – they are “hot”).
  • Rotted sawdust.
  • Compost.
  • Feedlot manure.

Fertilizing the garden

Fertilizing is an important practice, but – it is not a cure-all. Fertilization cannot compensate for:

  • Poor soil structure which does not allow for adequate drainage or aeration.
  • Undesirable soil pH or salt content of the soil.
  • Poor seeds, diseased or unhealthy plants.
  • Shade trees or tree roots in or around the garden area.

The addition of organic matter will ensure that some fertilizer nutrients are in the soil. You may need to add commercial fertilizer as well. Most chemical fertilizers are simply rock or mineral materials rich in nutrient elements.

Regardless of the form of the fertilizer – organic or chemical – the plant makes no distinction as long as the nutrients are there. However, larger quantities of organic materials must be used compared to more concentrated commercial fertilizers.

Applying fertilizers

Row applications provide the most efficient use of fertilizer for garden row crops. As a general rule, use about 1 to 2 pounds of balanced analysis fertilizer per 100 feet of row The best method of applying fertilizer is to dig a small trench 2 to 3 inches deep on either side of the row before planting. Sprinkle half the amount of fertilizer in each trench. Cover the trenches and plant in the marked row.

  • Row application (as mentioned above) is a lot of work! You can also broadcast the same fertilizer using 2 to 3 pounds per 100 square feet.
  • Or how about starter solutions? For transplanting vegetables such as tomatoes, peppers, eggplant or cabbage, add a starter fertilizer to the water used in setting the plants to get them off to a faster start.
  • Side dressing, anyone? A side dressing is simply an application of a nitrogen containing fertilizer along a row of growing plants. Watch your plants and if they lose that healthy, dark green appearance, side dress ’em!

This fertilizing business is complicated and involved. Ask your county agent to assist you with simplified instructions and then DO WHAT YOU ARE TOLD TO DO!

With fall here and winter not too far away, take a break, sit down at the kitchen table in the warmth of your home and start planning next year’s garden.

Thanks for reading! Always great to visit with you! Till next time!

stevehallerSteve Haller, of Osage City, a K-State Research and Extension Master Gardener, writes The Garden Patch, featuring gardening ideas and tips for gardeners in northeast Kansas. In his words: “I am not a horticulturist. By education I am an economist. By experience, I am a marketing guru from a local to an international scale. Gardening was taught to me by my grandfather and my Mom, and I’ve been doing it since World War II was going on.”

Steve can be contacted at [email protected], or leave questions or comments below.

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